I’ve been as snarky as anyone these last few weeks since I heard that, according to some Christian radio guy, the rapture was supposed to happen today, starting some hours ago in New Zealand (awfully convenient how the omnipresent Lord of the universe is bound by time zones). However, I do think it might be fitting to offer a few semi-serious comments on the whole affair, since it seems to have everyone talking and is a great excuse for people to ridicule the religion I’m a part of. Here, in no particular order, are some things worth chewing on:
1. Harold Camping was not a Christian. At least, not an orthodox one as far as I can tell from his teachings. His bizarre ideas included denying the trinity, telling people to leave the church, and saying that Jesus died twice. I realize that it’s tempting for those skeptical of religion to take any wingnut who purports to hold some creed as a prime example of it, but there are historical beliefs which characterize Christianity, and someone who denies many of them is probably not a great exemplar of the faith’s views.
2. The Bible is against such predictions. Jesus had some things to say about predicting the end of the world (Matthew 24:36). In my view, the person who predicts the end of the world is as representative of Christian end-times views as the open adulterer is of its sexual ethic. You can’t violate the bible and claim to be exegeting it at the same time, no matter what your “math” tells you. Incidentally, as a side note, it’s worth pointing out that many of Camping’s claims were based on the research of one Harold Camping. That “date” for Noah’s flood? Yeah, he came up with that one a couple decades ago. I know no serious bible scholar who would agree with it.
3. What rapture? This one might make some Christians angry, but I’m with the majority of the historical church in simply not buying that the bible says anything about the “rapture,” at least in the modern sense. It was invented by a guy named Darby in the 19th century as a way for his eschatology to get Christians out of the way so Jews could rule the earth. I obviously don’t have the space to go into this debate here, but let me just register that, Left Behind novels aside, many Christians today and all of them in the church’s first 1800 years saw the end times as meaning that Jesus comes back, raises the dead, judges the world, and makes all things new. That’s the whole story: no drivers disappearing form cars, no wacky politics in Palestine, no earthquakes or 666 tattoos. I think Revelation is mostly about Rome’s oppression and the time between Christ’s first and second comings, Matthew 24 is about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and the people “taken away” in a twinkling of an eye are taken to judgment, not harps and heavenly clouds. Now, I know some believers today disagree with this, and I don’t mean to be demeaning; I’m happy to enter into a conversation about these issues and am glad we both trust Jesus, who loves us despite our theological errors. However, for those of you tempted to reject Christianity because you find rapture hysteria ludicrous, know that lots of Christians do too.
4. God is a serious subject. As much as end-times-predicting billboards invite mockery, they have serious consequences. There are simple people whose lives and faiths have been destroyed today because a wicked man with a radio program told them lies. This saddens and angers me, and I’m on firm biblical ground saying God feels the same way. Unless he repents, Harold Camping will have the grief of thousands on his head on judgment day, whenever it is, and that’s not a position I envy. At the same time, I say this because I am deeply persuaded of the truth of Christianity. I know it can be tempting to avoid thinking about the claims of Christ because evil men misrepresent Him. However, faith is no laughing matter. Let’s agree that the May 21 rapture was ridiculous, but please don’t use that as an excuse to demonize and dismiss the God in whom very sane and careful people (whom I hope I am one of) believe. Rather, if you’re willing, I’d love to have a conversation about my resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, who will one day return and make all things new.